When Robert Gans announced he was bringing a standalone version of his popular New York steakhouses to Atlantic City, he said Robert’s Steakhouse would be one of the top steakhouses in town.
Now, months and millions of dollars later, Robert’s Steakhouse is open. And Gans’ lofty statement has come true.
Despite just opening about a month ago, Robert’s Steakhouse, located inside Trump Taj Mahal Casino Resort, is offering one of the best steakhouse experiences in town, from its knowledgeable, professional servers to its amazing food. And while Robert’s will certainly evolve as a restaurant, the possibility of it becoming one of the city’s Top three steakhouses is already evident.
Walk into the 200-seat masculine steakhouse that is modern yet pays homage to traditional steakhouses with its leather banquettes and dark woods and it’s hard not to be impressed. From its swank, cozy lounge area to its rippled glass louvers, a glass-enclosed fireplace and dramatic intersecting ceiling beams, it’s easy to see where the millions were spent.
But as beautiful as Robert’s is, the reason people will return is the food — and most importantly — the steaks.
In most restaurants, a steak is a steak is a steak, but not at Robert’s, which is the only steakhouse in town that ages its prime meat — delivered several time a week from New York — in house for at least six weeks, taking the meat to another level that is not achieved at most restaurants that age their meat 21 to 28 days.
Broiled at about 1,800 degrees and simply seasoned with imported olive oil, salt, pepper and fresh herbs, Executive Chef Will Savarese lets the meat do the talking.
“I helped design the kitchen, and one of the most important things was that we built the refrigerators so we have the butcher shop right in one of the refrigerator boxes and the meat is being cut fresh daily and the chefs can walk in there to get the meat like it’s a supermarket,” Savarese says. “It’s about the airflow and humidity. And if I have to make a call and hold it another week because I think it needs a little more aging, I can do that. And if we didn’t cut enough steaks during the day, I can jump on the bandsaw and cut more to order. When you cut that aged meat and you see the beautiful color and it has that soft texture, there’s nothing like it.”
“I think the physical frame of the restaurant is comfortable and inviting, and the bar is beautiful, but what really gets me is when I eat the steaks,” adds General Manager Robert Grabowski. “I don’t have to put salt on it. I don’t have to have sauce with it. They are perfect. You taste the meat. And even when the steaks are coming out of the kitchen, you smell them. The meat just smells so flavorful. It’s not the garlic or butter that some restaurants put on it that smells great, it’s the meat. The dry aging really concentrates the flavors.”
Steaks range from $46 for an 8-ounce filet to $140 for a Gold Label Kobe New York Strip, which isn’t offered anywhere else in town.
“The kobe beef is from Snake River Farm, which is the best in the United States,” Savarese says. “The key behind the Kobe is the fat. And people should order it medium. Anything less and the fat doesn’t get a chance to melt. But if you cook it medium, all of that marble and extra fat starts to melt. It’s a 12- to 14-ounce cut, and it’s so rich. You can easily split it with someone and be totally satisfied.”
Savarese, however, raises the bar with the rest of the menu, too. Confident but not cocky, Savarese says the best ingredient his staff offers is “passion,” and he takes his job seriously. Working alongside some of the best chefs in the business, including Daniel Boulud at New York’s Le Cirque, Charlie Palmer at Aureole New York and David Burke, Savarese fuses French techniques with American sensibilities to make the menu creative, yet approachable.
“I would say I learned a lot along the way and like putting my own twist on French techniques,” says Savarese, who was the executive chef at the acclaimed La Cremaillere in Bedford, N.Y., before taking over one of the Robert’s Steakhouses in New York City. “The whole key to my success is that I am looking to compete with myself, not other restaurants. I want to push myself to get better every day and I don’t look to see what others are doing.”
Standouts include the Asian-style tuna tartar ($24) with quail egg for creaminess, sesame oil, diced ginger, scallion and Sriracha sauce with sourdough toast points; Savarese’s signature Al Torchio homemade pasta (shaped like a torch) with dried duck sausage ($22) served with butternut squash, sage and asiago cheese; seared sea scallops ($36) with citrus and roasted baby carrots; grilled lamb chops ($45) with garlic and rosemary; free-range chicken ($34) wrapped in speck with beans, tomato and herbs; and Tuna a la Plancha ($34) with chick pea puree, black olives and herb oil.
Even the sides ($12) will blow your mind, such as creamed spinach that is as light as a soufflé; double-smoked bacon; sautéed wild mushrooms; and potato gratin with bacon.
Savarese soon will offer specials and will use as much local product as possible.
“I want to do a lot of dishes with local ingredients,” Savarese says. “I am already doing that with seafood and hope to also do it with produce and seasonal ingredients. That’s where my specials will come from.”
After looking at the menu, some diners will undoubtedly suffer sticker shock, but Robert’s management — and ownership — insists you get what you pay for.
“No one is balking at the prices — there hasn’t been price resistance — because when people dine here, they realize they are eating something special,” Grabowski says. “Bob’s idea is that if you are giving people premium product with premium service, people will be happy. And he’s right, they are loving it. They are saying it’s the best steak they ever had, the best veal chop they ever had, the best service they ever had and so on.”
“We buy the best and we serve the best in the best surroundings,” Gans adds. “Meat is a very expensive product today. And there are certain things we could buy that would be cheaper. But it wouldn’t be as good. If we cut back the quality, people would compare us to Morton’s and other steakhouses of that ilk, and we want to be different … better. The price point we have is for those who want that kind of experience, and I don’t think I will be wrong. There are more than enough people who come to Atlantic City that we don’t have to sell everyone to make it successful.”
Part of that formula is impressive service, and Robert’s delivers there, as well. Hand-picked by Grabowski, the front of the house exudes professionalism.
“We started out with 600 applicants, got it down to 200 and ended up with a staff of about 45,” Grabowski says. “We were able to hire a staff with great experience from the best restaurants in town and elsewhere. And the most important thing is that they care about the customers’ experience from the hostesses to the wait staff to the bartenders to the management to the owners.”
This is the third Robert’s Steakhouse, but it is the first standalone restaurant. The other two are located inside the Scores and Penthouse gentleman’s clubs in New York City. Gans will open Scores on a different level of the Taj Mahal in the spring, but wanted Robert’s to be a separate entity from the gentleman’s club.
“It’s been an unbelievable experience for me to have a standalone restaurant because we are now getting a cross-section of people that we don’t get inside the clubs,” Gans says. “We are seeing people in their 20s and 70s, men and women, and even small kids with their parents over Thanksgiving. I am a people person. And just like a comedian loves making people laugh, I love it when people tell me how unbelievable their meal was.”
Savarese says the standalone, independent concept and devoted ownership is what will make Robert’s successful in the long run.
“We don’t have to operate so that food cost is ‘X’ amount and this much,” Savarese says. “Bob wants to make sure we are delivering on his philosophy of quality first. He lets me run this like it’s my own restaurant because I watch his back on everything. I watch every penny with purveyors, but I am buying the best from the best. And people taste it every night.”
Grabowski knows Robert’s will be at the top of the Atlantic City steakhouse chain, especially when Robert’s rolls out its cocktail menu, a special lounge menu featuring everything from flatbreads to hamachi, and live music and DJs.
“We want to be a destination, not just for casino gamblers, who are important, but for people who love great food and a great dining experience and are looking for something no one else is offering,” he says. “And people are already loving it. We are seeing a big New York crowd, and I think part of that is they know Robert’s, but the other part is that we offer a real New York feel in Atlantic City without being pretentious.”
Must-try items at Robert’s
Start with the sautéed Maryland crab cake ($19) with red pepper aioli and micro greens, as well as the kobe beef carpaccio ($36) with arugula salad, truffle oil and shaved parmesan. Have a pasta course with the wild mushroom risotto ($24) with truffle oil and chives. Then head to the entrees: an aged bone-in New York strip ($53) with Robert’s steak sauce; and the pan-roasted veal chop ($59) with fresh herbs, roasted garlic and pancetta. And don’t forget the sides ($12): everything french fries with sesame and poppy seeds, garlic, onion and more; the beer-battered onion rings dipped in malt vinegar and served with bacon blue cheese; or the mac and cheese.
Remember the name Bruce Connell Jr. He is one of the best pastry chefs in Atlantic City. Creative, enthusiastic and extraordinary, his desserts ($12) at Robert’s have people buzzing as much as the steaks. Current must-try selections include the chocolate hazelnut bomb with spiced marsala oranges and chocolate tuile; vanilla bean panna cotta with roasted pineapple carpaccio and raspberry tuile; chocolate pudding with vanilla bean whipped cream and chocolate tuile; Robert’s Melt Down with a chocolate chip cookie based on top of a mudslide brownie with Maker’s Mark ice cream. Plus, all of the sorbets, gelatos and ice cream are made in-house.
Robert’s offers one of the nicest private rooms in the city. With seating up to 30 people, the room, located in the rear of the restaurant behind the wine case, boasts gray leather walls and an audio-visual set-up that includes two flat-screen TVs and an iPad that controls all of the room’s functions, so events from business meetings to dinners can be held. The room is also soundproofed so the dining room can’t hear the party, and the party can’t hear the dining room.